A Trowers levelling up publication: Levelling Up and Net Zero


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The Levelling Up White Paper, published in February 2022, sets out the Government's proposals aimed at ending geographical inequality within the UK.

While it only makes brief reference to the Government's Net Zero target, it should be read in conjunction with the Net Zero Strategy, which was published in October 2021.   

The Paper defines twelve "missions" that outline the Government's medium-term goals for levelling up the country. It is clear that there is scope and opportunity for these missions to be achieved alongside the Net Zero policies. This article focusses on three of the missions set out in the Paper and their interface with the wider Net Zero target.

Housing

The Paper emphasises that decent homes are "fundamental" to well-being and are necessary to create "thriving neighbourhoods and communities". By 2030, the Government's ambition is for the number of non-decent rented homes to have fallen by 50% - with the biggest improvements in the lower performing areas of the country. This aligns with the Government's Net Zero proposals regarding housing.

As part of the Net Zero Strategy, the Government has pledged to improve energy efficiency across homes, this should result in a reduction in household energy bills and homes being more comfortable to live in. The Future Homes Standard (due in 2025) will require all new homes meet higher energy efficiency standards and produce 75%-80% less carbon emissions than current standards. For existing homes, the Government's Heat and Building Strategy sets out the Government's targets in improving the energy efficiency standards. This includes the phase out of new gas boilers (in favour of other low carbon heat options) and a focus on improving the fabric efficiency of homes.

The Government has also pledged £2.2 billion of funding via schemes such as the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, the Home Upgrade Grant and the Boiler Upgrade Scheme to help improve the quality and energy efficiency of existing homes across the country.

Transport

The Paper's transport mission states that "by 2030, local public transport connectivity across the country will be significantly closer to the standards of London…". This complements the Government's Transport Decarbonisation Plan (published in July 2021) as one of its key priorities is for "every place in the UK to have its own net zero emission transport network by 2050".

This is supported by a commitment under the Transport Decarbonisation Plan to spend at least £12 billion (through existing funding streams) on local transport systems over the current parliament. This funding will be focussed on reducing emissions at the local level through funding on active transport (eg walking and cycling), intra-city public transport links and EV charging infrastructure. The Transport Decarbonisation Plan also makes reference to embedding transport decarbonisation principles across local planning and transport policy and the Government will also publish a "toolkit of guidance" for local authorities that focusses on planning and delivering low carbon transport locally.

Skills

The Paper's skills mission states that "by 2030, the number of people successfully completing high-quality skills training will have significantly increased in every areas of the UK…" and that the Government's goal is to "support a high-wage, high-skill economy" that supports people realising their career aspirations without having to leave their communities. A highly skilled workforce is one of the key tenants of the Net Zero Strategy. An example is the Government's target of 600,000 heat pumps installed a year by 2028, which will require an estimated 35,000 qualified heat pump installers by 2028. This will require significant upskilling within the current heat industry. The Net Zero Strategy sets out the Government's ambition to support up to 2 million "green" jobs by 2030 (across both Net Zero sectors and also wider environmental areas such as climate adaptation and the circular economy). The Green Jobs Taskforce has been set up to deliver this goal and their first report was published in July 2021.

The Taskforce highlighted that there will be benefits from a concentration of Net Zero opportunities in certain areas for example, the growth of carbon capture utilisation and storage and low carbon hydrogen can lead to increased employment within the UK's established industrial areas such as Merseyside, Humberside, Scotland and Wales. Additionally, as the automotive industry transitions to Net Zero, the demand for roles in the EV supply chain will benefit existing manufacturing hubs within the Midlands and other hubs of automotive manufacturing.

The Taskforce warns however that if improperly managed, the Net Zero transition "could have serious impacts on the broader economy" especially in areas where current jobs are heavily dependent on the oil and gas industry.

Opportunities and risks

Net Zero has a role to play in several of the Paper's other missions - for example investing in research and development, improving public health and well-being across the country and helping increase "pride in place" across the nation.

While the Paper notes that Net Zero could create "huge opportunities" for many of the UK's left-behind places, it also creates risks that need to be managed carefully (with recognition that more than one in every two jobs in carbon-intensive industries are in the Midlands, the North and Scotland). Net Zero may be the catalyst for a Green Industrial Revolution, but fair treatment is critical. It is important that the regions and workforces that face the most disruption get the necessary investment and support.  This needs the Government to shift the focus and start delivering on its Levelling Up agenda.

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